Retail Sales Training - Lessons from Harley Davidson

The Power of Community Selling

I would like to introduce you the concept of community selling.  We’ve all heard of transactional selling, consultative selling and relationship selling, but there is another type of selling that, in an era of increased competition, is separating the winners from the losers and a company that does this especially well is Harley Davidson.

I think the best way to describe this type of selling to you is by sharing my experiences first hand.

I was contacted by a Harley Davidson dealer who wanted to position himself as the number one seller of Harley Davidson parts. He said that while sales of new bikes was great, his parts sales team was struggling to sell more than one part at a time. This was an interesting scenario, how does one upsell an oil filter? It’s not quite the same thing as adding on a belt to a dress, or an extended warranty to a big ticket purchase.  So as part of my research I visited a local Harley Davidson dealer who was pretty apt at add-on selling and this is what I discovered. 

It’s Party Time

As I pull up outside the store, I’m struck by how many riders are congregating both inside and outside. They all seem to know one another. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before - customers coming together in a store for a friendly chat with each other about their shared passion - riding Harley's. It was a party on the retail floor! These people were excited!  Most of the time when you go shopping you don’t even acknowledge other customers, so this shopping environment was a real eye opener for me.  And the Harley sales team were mingling in with them. They weren’t standing behind the counter, or standing over in the corner, they were getting amongst it. You see they're riders too and they share this passion.  

Let me in

Now, I’d never ridden a bike before and until that day I had never had an interest in ridding.  If you were to ask me what stores I would feel most at home in, I would tell you gift stores, fashion stores, beauty stores. I would never in my wildest dreams have said a Harley Davidson store. But as soon as I stepped inside, I immediately felt at home. The atmosphere was one of genuine warmth and I realised this wasn’t just a store, it was a community.  If someone can walk into a store that sells products they have no interest in, and immediately feel at home; something pretty cool is going on. 

This isn't a store - it's a community!

What also struck me was how different the culture was to other stores. There was a genuine interest in getting to know people first, building relationships, and welcoming them into the Harley community.  As I looked around to observe the riders and sales team, everyone was in rapport.  As they were chatting away to one another, I noticed them checking out each other’s bikes and the bikes and accessories in store. The Harley team were advising them and educating them.  I realised then the sales team, in the eyes of their customers, were riders first and foremost.  There was selling going on, but in a way I’d never encountered before.

After experiencing this I realised how flawed most traditional sales programs would be in this environment. If you were to walk up with a set of pre rehearsed questions and opening lines, you’d come across as a moron. 

As I walked around the store it wasn’t hard to spot I was an outsider because unlike everyone else in the store I wasn’t carrying a helmet and I didn’t have a leather jacket on. A member of the Harley team notices me and casually walks on over to say hello. Now because the environment was so natural, I saw him as a friendly guy just coming over to say hello. I didn’t attach the label to him as a ‘salesperson’; I didn’t assume the role of a ‘customer’. 

We were simply two people striking up a conversation in the midst of a party on the retail floor!


Now I can’t tell you how Geoff (the salesperson) greeted me, or what he said to me in those first few seconds, but I what I can tell you is that I liked him! The reason I liked him was because he was authentic.  At a subconscious level I was picking up that he was genuine guy wanting to make me feel at home in his store and feel a part of his community.  He adapted to my energy level, and because he adapted to me, I felt at ease in the store.

What struck me about Geoff was how much he loved his job.  He was smiling, beaming in fact; it was as if there was no place he’d rather be. Now because Geoff was so easy to chat to, I just started asking him questions as part of my research and here is what I learnt.  

Is the store always this busy Geoff?

"Every Saturday riding groups assemble at the store. They chat socially for an hour or so, check out accessories, check out each other’s bikes to get ideas from them. They get to know the team. We’re the meeting point for the local riding community."

Wow I say, that’s pretty cool but does anyone buy anything?

"Sure, a lot of selling goes on here. I know just about every one of these guys. I know what they like. I know what’s on their wish list. When you’re passionate about riding too, it’s easy to build a relationship because you automatically have something in common - your shared passion. The riders spur each other on too, because they’ll notice something on someone else's bike and think “that’s nice” and then check it out in store.

If a customer comes in to buy one part, how easy is it to sell them another? 

"It’s real easy.  It’s easy to spend money on your passion. It does depend on the part. If it’s an oil filter it’s not so easy to upsell; but if it’s a side bucket, I may ask - ‘have you thought about getting more comfortable foot rests for your wife?’ Some guys buy all their accessories up front, and others add them to their wish list over time. But I know what’s on their wish list, and each time they come in I see where they’re at. Some guys take 18 months to choose a bike; some come in and know immediately what they want.

Do you have a bunch of pre-rehearsed greetings or questions you use to engage customers?

"No. We were made to come up with them in training, but if I was to talk to you now and suddenly have to remember the questions I was meant to ask you or greetings I was meant to use, it just wouldn’t be right. I’d have to write the questions on my palm to remember them. I’d be too worried about what I was meant to be saying instead of just striking up a conversation with you". 

Good point. Geoff, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier salesperson. You must really love your job!

"It’s such a privilege to work here. Others have to pay to come into this store, I get to work here for free . You absolutely could not sell Harley Davidson parts or bikes if you didn’t have an absolute pride in the product.  Buying a Harley is a lifestyle purchase and so it requires lifestyle selling, which is what we're doing with our community groups.

The Upshot

So there we have it - community selling in a nutshell boils down to three things - Passion, Pride and Performance.

  1. You’ve got to fuel their passion, because passion sells itself.  It’s easy to spend money on your passion. You’re not selling a product, you’re selling a lifestyle and a lifestyle lasts a lifetime. You have to have passion for what that product represents, in this case - riding.
  2. You've got to show pride for you brand, and...
  3. You've got to make the focus on helping customers get the results they want - performance.

Geoff had an absolute love and passion for riding.  

He was proud to work for the Harley brand.

He made his focus helping his customers get the ride they desired - performance!

And, sales were booming as  a result!


Check out our full package learn more about how you can generate Passion, Pride and Performance in your team and gain the competitive edge!

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